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Unlike predecessors, Obama has yet to make address from Oval Office

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; 4:50 PM

In a busy year-and-a-half in office, President Obama has given dozens of speeches, interviews and news conferences, repeatedly attempting to seize the attention of a distracted public. But he's never addressed the nation from the Oval Office.

It can't possibly be for lack of a crisis.

Obama has faced just about everything: a near-economic collapse, attempted terrorist attacks, legislative cliffhangers, a wartime expansion in Afghanistan and now an environmental disaster to rival all others.

As the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico continues to widen, pressure has increased for the president to express his anger to a frustrated nation. He has given interviews to network anchors, made Rose Garden remarks and issued pronouncements in front of any number of backdrops, including a Coast Guard cutter docked in the gulf. Some might wonder whether it's now time to use the ultimate backdrop for a presidential address.

But the president has waited so long to use the Oval Office that there may be some reluctance to start now. If Obama were to use that setting to address the nation about the oil spill, for example, people might read more into the speech than the White House would want. It might suggest that the administration "is scrambling and in crisis mode" and make Obama seem "out of control," said Ari Fleischer, one of George W. Bush's press secretaries.

Aides in the West Wing said that's not it at all. They said they have not seriously considered an Oval Office address to the nation on the oil spill subject.

"It's not because we don't think it's a good format," said communications director Dan Pfeiffer. "It's an important and significant thing. We'll do it at some point."

The lack of an Oval Office address is a contrast with many of Obama's predecessors, some of whom seemed to relish the chance to preempt prime-time network programming for 15 or 20 minutes.

Ronald Reagan was the king of the Oval Office address, delivering at least 33 during his eight years in office. Sitting in the chair behind the Resolute Desk, Reagan addressed the nation on everything from the federal budget to missile defense to the TWA hijacking and Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

At times, Reagan addressed the nation almost once a month, taking advantage of a time before cable TV and the Internet to gather nearly 80 million people together to listen to his remarks. Eighteen months into Reagan's presidency, he had addressed the nation from the Oval Office five times.

Jimmy Carter gave his famous "malaise" speech from the Oval Office, and George H.W. Bush announced the launching of the first gulf war from there.

When Bill Clinton took office, he continued the tradition. He spoke to the public from the Oval Office about Somalia, Haiti, Iraq and -- several times -- about his plans for the economy. His address to the nation about the Monica Lewinsky affair was delivered from the White House residence -- not the Oval Office.


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